Dream of a society where women are not allowed entry into places of worship. Imagine they are banished to keep their religious practices confined to their homes. Imagine they are taught that they serve God best by serving their religious husbands. Think of the God as formless and yet it is only Him not Her. Get snapped out of the dream and come to reality. There exists such a society that lives this dream. Not only in the middle-east, but it exists well within free and democratic India. Not only that it exists, it is very well protected by the constitution through the fundamental rights to practice one’s own religion.
Now start dreaming again. Dream of a society where women freely enter places of worship. Imagine some of the women sing in praise of deities and become saints themselves. Imagine they are not only taught religious practices, rather some of them become exponents in the field of inner exploration and teach the paths to other practitioners. Think of the God as formless, or having form. Think of the deity as Him or Her; if any of this is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit in your scheme of imagination, think of the deity as neither Him nor Her but as one having either genders or having none of them. Just for the charm of it, imagine that one of such a deity remains in the masculine form and the other masculine deity takes a feminine form for a short period. Extend your imagination and give them a child. Give him all the powers of both his parents and also give him a bell around his neck. Imagine a young lady waiting to avenge the slaying of his demonic brother, disillusioned and embodying all anger and negativity in her. Think of this young man by his sheer entry into the lady’s life transform her into a beautiful angelic woman. Having inspired by this brave man, think of the lady as falling in love with him and offering herself in marriage to him. Imagine this young man wanting to lead a celibate life instead and therefore turns down the offer. Give him the freedom to look for a place where women do not reach so that he can continue to remain in an undisturbed yogic state. Give the angel the patience and ability to wait for centuries till the time he completes his tapas and come back to marry her. While imagining all this, don’t forget that this deity has only chosen a place free of alluring disturbances for his meditation. In your imagination make a resolution not deny him that choice. While dreaming of all this, never forget that there are thousand other deities who has not taken such decisions. They all live happily with their consorts or sometimes away from them. They all have temples that are visited by men and women alike, while this strange young man with a bell around his neck is also a star, and only one of them, in some small corner of your imaginary universe. Get out from the dream startled and come back to reality. There exists such a society too, that lives this dream. It exists well within free and democratic India and nowhere else. Yet, unfortunately it is in the danger of being questioned and abandoned by the same constitution that promises fundamental rights to practice one’s own religion.
The Supreme Court of India recently questioned the age old practice of not entertaining women in menstruating age span within the Ayyappa temple premises at Sabarimala while hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Kerala unit of a lesser known NGO, Young Lawyers Association. The Honourable Supreme court, no doubt, has all the powers to question a social practice that may seem conflicting with the constitutional guarantees of equality and justice. While doing so, it would serve well by exercising equality of perception and judgement on all sections of the society; not by concentrating only on one section and that too, the least harmful. By the time this issue of Yuva Bharati is in the hands of the readers, in all likelihood, there would be a clear picture of the stance taken by the Court. Having made the point, let us confine to elaborating on a more pressing issue; the components that drive decision making in our country even after so many decades of freedom; the engine, piston and the fuel.
With continual and dismal trend of criticising, ridiculing and dismissing the time tested religious and cultural practices, irrespective of public sentiments or cultural validities, the engine that drives the country, appears to be something that the British carefully left behind as a forced gift for free India. This gift is essentially, a mindset that keeps on doubting about all practices that are native to this land as primitive and needing modernization. This mindset is an outcome from a factory of the modern education system. The production line in this factory, at one level has a framework for worldview. The produce goes through this framework and course corrections are made by filtering out any good regards for native value systems, its inherent diversities and pluralities. Thus the engine, namely the mindset is devoid of nativity and comes through as a well groomed and ready-to-fit into a monolithic western value system.
With continual and dismal trend of inconsistent secularism, the engine has a piston that keeps running back and forth during every cycle of elections and run up to elections. And that is appeasement politics. With every forward movement, the piston pushes favours to minority groups, thereby creating congenial electorate. With every backward movement, the piston disregards the majority to keep the engine running.
It is better to mention what the fuel is, without any decoration of expressions. The simple reason is because the fuel on which the engine runs is nothing but ‘ignorance’ – ignorance of the Hindus about their own religion, religious practices, scriptures and philosophies. It is because of this engine of enslaved mentality, the vehicle of free India doesn’t seem to move in the direction it ought to move. As darkness is nothing but absence of light, ignorance is not something which is true. It is merely the absence of knowledge. The absence of knowledge happens because it is convenient for the enslaved mind to remain in the comfort zone believing that all that is traditional is against modernity.
If it was not for the ignorance, the narrative about women not being entertained in the Sabaraimala temple would have been very different. It would have included a mention of a temple not very far from the holy hill, the Attukkal Bhagavati amman temple, where 4.5 million women gather for the Pongala festival. The line up of women who gather to cook prasadam in earthen pots, run several kilometres spanning half a dozen villages. If the argument was about the ‘weakness’ of Ayyappa’s ability to continue his meditation irrespective of who visits, the narrative would have included mention about women being allowed to visit thousands of other local Ayyappa temples anytime. If the argument was about the ‘primitiveness’ in considering women unclean during menstruation, the narrative would have included mention of another temple in the opposite end of the country, the Kamakhya temple at Guwahati, with the presiding deity being an embodiment of the sacredness in the process of menstruation.
A tradition can have answers for any number of doubts. But no tradition, however ripe and rich it may be, can have answers to motivated campaigns. The answer for such campaigns should not be searched in tradition under question but in the motivation of the campaigner. Any attempt to service the engine will not help. The vehicle will change course only when we change the engine, to that of National education, with a piston pumping Nationality running on the fuel of Knowledge. If plurality in India is still a reality, it is not because of what the constitution promises but because of what Hinduism dreams of. It is our duty to preserve the native practices if we intend to keep the dream of plurality real.